TRADITIONALLY associated with christening clothes and young girl's dresses, smocking--tiny pleats or gathers decorated with embroidery stitches--is considered too precious for anyone over the age of 10.
The ancients knew better. Smocking originated in medieval Europe, where it was used to decorate namesake smocks worn by peasants--male and female. The working classes wore these smocks over other clothes as loose, flowing, pullover jackets. The upper classes wore similar (and presumably less voluminous) smocks as undergarments.
What is now called English smocking probably evolved as a simple attempt to gather fabric, a solution to the problem of fitting 2 yards of fabric around a 1-yard chest. The resulting pleats and gathers were serviceable enough, but a gathering thread is not very sturdy. Decorating the gathers with intricate stitches not only enhanced the beauty of the garment but also strengthened it.
Today there is renewed interest in the peasant-type smock (it never went out of fashion with artists). For those who won't consider wearing a smock, there are now pillows, boxes, even tree ornaments decorated with this technique.